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Defense Wants Teen Killing Trial Moved

The Christy McKendall case has gotten too much publicity in San Bernardino, lawyer says.

May 30, 2003|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

An attorney for one of the teenage boys accused of killing a 16-year-old girl from Highland and dumping her body down a well asked a judge Thursday to move the trial from San Bernardino to another courthouse in the county because of the intense local news coverage of the case.

Defense attorney Julian Ducree asked that the court select jurors from the Victorville area, arguing that residents from the High Desert are less likely to be influenced by the publicity.

Jonathan Lee Stephens, 19, and Joshua Curnette, 16, are accused of killing Christy McKendall in the San Bernardino Mountains in April 2002, smashing her head with a tree branch.

"I want to ensure we get some relief from the concerns we have of a tainted jury pool, and I believe case law supports us," said Ducree, who represents Curnette.

The motion is an alternative to a request by Stephens' attorney, who has asked the judge to move the trial to another county. Superior Court Judge Bob N. Krug is scheduled to hold a hearing on the motions July 10.

Ducree and Stephens' attorney, James Gass, say they fear the heavy media coverage of McKendall's death, mostly in the San Bernardino Sun, has been seen by too many county residents.

"This was a major local event that has generated a lot of emotional attachment," Ducree said.

In court filings, county prosecutor Lewis Cope argued that a fair trial would be possible in San Bernardino, noting that the Charles Manson trial wasn't moved out of Los Angeles County. Cope also said the Sun is delivered to 56,159 homes in a county of more than 1.7 million residents, so the impact of the news coverage was limited.

"This delays the victim's family's day in court," Cope said.

McKendall, a student at San Gorgonio High School, was killed after being allegedly lured to Little Sand Canyon by Stephens, Curnette and a 14-year-old boy she reportedly had a crush on. Five days later, her half-clothed body was found dumped in a well. Later, Curnette allegedly told San Bernardino police that Stephens repeatedly smashed McKendall's head with a eucalyptus tree branch, then had sex with her body before they dumped it in the well.

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